Tag Archives: Relationships

Fox Holes and Bird’s Nests: What is Home?

According to one definition of home, I am currently homeless. I have been moving back and forth between friends and family while the future slowly sorts itself. While this sorting happens, putting down roots doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. It’s not surprising then that lately I have been wondering about what home actually is. Recently I re-read these words from John O’Donohue:

The word home has a wonderful resonance. Home is where you belong. It is your shelter and place of rest, the place where you can be yourself. (Eternal Echoes, 32)

Place and belonging. Home is about place and belonging. We can assume that this place and belonging is only physical. At this point in time I am sensing that, for me, place and belonging is not primarily physical – it is relational. There are wonderful and generous friends who are willing to share their physical home with me, who say that I am a part of the family, that their home is my home. As I grow in accepting this, something else is happening: we are deepening in the ‘place’ of our relationships, the home of our relationships. As this happens we express who we are with each other. In this place of relationship we discover ourselves. There is safety, shelter.

It has been good to be with family during this time – and important. With the passing of our mother, Marie, over a year ago now, family dynamics have changed. Mum was, in many ways, the one who held home as a physical place for us. She is no longer physically with us, so the experience of home has changed. The family home experience, for me, is no longer limited to a house. Mum is free in Christ and home is now something more. Home as a spiritual reality echoes a little more surely in the heart. The relationship I have with Mum has moved the place of home into a broader context, one that goes beyond the physical to embrace more of the eternal.

What has been important during this time has been faithfulness to the practice of meditation. It has been an anchor point, important for ongoing stability and peace. As home loses its physical foundation, taking on the relational and the spiritual, the contemplative practice of meditating during the course of each day has helped with the letting go of expectation and anxiety around what is next and what is happening. The grace of meditation grounds life in the home within.

In all of this I am seeing that, for me, being a part of The World Community For Christian Meditation at this time means being a global citizen. The physical of home and belonging that so often flows as gift from the relational and the spiritual is no longer limited to one place, one country.  As the relational and spiritual goes global, so does the physical.

Jesus tells us that, if we want to be his disciples, we must grow in this relational and spiritual sense of home. This home is the heart of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is relational. Where ever there are relationships seeking true love, there is this kingdom. It is where we all belong. Where ever we are being drawn into the heart of relationship is where we must go. This heart is our home. It is where life is. It is the most important thing from which everything else flows. For our lives to proclaim the kingdom we must live into its heart – where ever this heart finds us.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-60).


Every Breaking Wave: U2. Stability and Commitment in the Face of Change

Part of the maturing of our humanity over time is a growth in psychological and spiritual stability. The writer James Bishop, in his commentary on the Rule of Benedict (A Way in the Wilderness), says stability is all about ‘always aiming to do the right thing without constantly changing our direction’ (105). Committing to the ‘right thing’ is about not ‘chasing every breaking wave’, that is, not ‘constantly changing direction.’

Often our commitments are a heart choice. This, I think, is the choice that Bono is singing about: the heart choice of committing to another person. An early conviction of the heart can, over time, be clouded by fear and doubt. Circumstances of life change, the way we approach life changes. Feelings change. People change. It is only natural that a heart choice is buffeted and challenged by these winds of change.

But what is this heart? Of recent times it has become a symbol for love and feeling. Put these together and it seems that love is only a feeling. In the story of Judaism and Christianity the heart is that mysterious ‘place’ of being deep within us where our divinely inspirited uniqueness resides. In Christianity this heart can also be the place of our deepest longing for love. Ultimately this longing is for God because only this God is the True Love that will fulfill us. That ‘God is Love’, true and unconditional, is the great Christian testimony. Everyone else, including those whom we are in relationship with, is at best a manifestation and humble expression of this True Love.

Being in touch with this heart-place of our deepest identity and longing is of great assistance when it comes to both choosing and keeping heart commitments.

Some questions to ask ourselves while discerning a commitment to another person therefore could be: ‘can I be myself with this person?’ And ‘can I give full expression to my longing for God with this person?’ Heartfelt affirmations to these questions are among the indications that the person concerned is a good fit for us.

Being in touch with this heart is what stabilises us in the commitments we make. Being out of touch with this heart has the potential to destabilise us and our commitments. The question that we keep coming back to while we live this commitment over a lifetime is ‘where is my heart in this commitment?’

Contemplative prayer is about the practice of giving attention to this heart, about staying in touch with this heart. This practice grounds us in the heart of who we are and, ultimately, in the divine. Over time there is developed in us a stability that has its roots less and less in our changeable psychology and circumstance and more and more in the Being of God. This Being is our rock. This Being is our source. This Being is our very life force. From this Being we can commit with divine stability. Christian Meditation is one such contemplative practice.

If what we mean by heart is only feeling, and we believe love to be simply a feeling, then it can follow that when our feelings of love change so does the very nature of our heart commitment. But who we most deeply are and who God is are both beyond feeling. Love is not a feeling. We can have feelings in response to the presence of Love. Just because a feeling has changed is no indication that True Love has‘gone’.

And so we come to the struggle that U2 in this song are embracing:

Heart commitments can be a gamble because at any one time we may not have a good enough sense of where our heart is.

Fear and anxiety can cover the heart preventing our experience of this deep place. Stability in commitment is about staying the course until fear fades and our hearts are recovered.

Like the sea, our inner experience can change quickly. We need to be respectful of this. What is stormy at the surface can be still and calm at the depths. A decision based on the surface of inner experience can leave us shipwrecked.

For the Christian the captain is Jesus Christ. His human and divine consciousness lives at our depths, in our hearts. His ‘voice’, those movements of divine life within can be listened to if we can become still and quiet enough. These movements can guide us to, and sustain us in, our lifetime heart commitments.

To drown, to be so overwhelmed by feelings of fear and doubt, to question everything, even to leave after doing your heartfelt best may be a failure, but it is no sin in the sense that it is not a condemnation of our hearts.

‘You know where my heart is, the same place that yours has been’. Often the experience of instability within a commitment is the journey back to the heart. The heart can be the experience of the original choice for that person, that commitment. Back in touch with this heart we can be ‘swept off our feet’ by the divine life within our heart commitments. Intimacy here is about being in God and bringing God to each other.


Meditatio House: Everyone is Holding a Mirror

I can be hard on myself. Too hard. This hardness comes from many years of expected too much from myself. Over time there has been some improvement in this state of mind, improvement that happens as my psyche inches into grace.

There is a wonderful song by Luka Bloom called Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. This song has been with me for many years. It’s one which I tend to play when I do feel low. If I am feeling low and somewhat overwhelmed by what is going on around and within me, well that’s when this tendency to be hard on myself can rise, or indeed is already active.

One reason for this tendency is the sustained rejection which I have experienced in life. This happened mainly in my adolescent years. The logic of my hardness goes something like: ‘be good enough and no one will reject you.’ Call it the product of rejection anxiety. Call it perfectionism. Call it ego’s lie. It has been quite a challenge to live by this axiom. Parts of my life have had to fall apart under the strain of hyper-expectation and anxiety for me to learn the art of gentleness (an ongoing journey).

Recently the tendency to be hard on myself became quite energetic. This is understandable. I am living on the other side of the world, living with people who are new to me, and in a place and lifestyle which I am still getting used to.

The problem with high expectations is that these expectations can easily turn into judgement and condemnation. When this happened recently, rather than experience this harsh judgement of myself from myself, I projected it outward and onto the others around me. They were the ones doing it, not me. I was unaware that I was doing this. I was just so caught up in the dynamic. A meeting with a wise member of the wider meditation community helped me to name and re-member what was going on. The projection seemed to come full circle when this community elder looked at me and wisely said ‘I’m not judging you!’.

Before the meeting I was questioning (to myself) my fellow community member’s motivations for being a part of the Meditatio House community and judging their personality traits (or at least my perception of them). Ego was having a field day. Humility and the deeper self fell out of awareness. Compassion dried up. Spiritual pride began to rise: ‘I’m better than them, I’m more spiritually mature.’

The people around me were like movie screens onto which I was unconsciously projecting certain traits and feelings held within my own personality that I did not want to see. If I was to see them within myself, well there was the risk of self-judgement and self-rejection. This risk seems heightened when we are caught in the dynamics of ego (as I was).

So what were these traits, feelings? They are a part of the shadow of personality; those hidden aspects which we do not want to know about or live out of, and consequently have difficulty facing. And yet they do exist in the darker places within us.

Arrogance..jealousy..the anxious need to control..shame..perfectionist Prejudice..hatred..anger..harshness..possessiveness..puerile..miser

These seem to be some of the traits and feelings that have been coming up recently for me as I sit with these projections. The energy in motion (emotion) empowering my projections resonates with these names.

This ongoing process of naming and integrating ‘negative’ or ‘dark’ feeling and traits is the fruit of a stable enough grounding in love. The practice of Christian meditation grounds our attention in this love. The glow of the divine love-life soon warms and permeates more and more of our inner life. A soft and enduring light and warmth is experienced as emanating even from those crannies of psyche which we have long turned from in abject shame. Over time there is the graced acceptance of our own lovableness – crannies and all. God never gives up on us. Our psyches come to be built on rock.

We become less dependent on the fractured expressions of love that come to us from ourselves and others. And yet over time our own expressions of love grow gently in this divine fullness within us, and we come to appreciate anew the human expressions of love that happen around us.

The wonderful thing is that once we realise and accept that we are projecting and can come to a place of naming what is feeding these projections, the energy around the projections subsides and the feelings diminish. As these parts of our shadow come out into the light of awareness they are slowly integrated into the overall personality. This is the gift that community can be – if we can stick it out.

Once we come to see that we are projecting it’s like the people around us are holding up to us a mirror. Someone we first judge as arrogant is seen as holding up to us a reflection of our own hidden arrogance; someone whom we may judge as petulant is holding up a mirror reflecting an intolerance of our own temperamental selves.

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As this process unfolds we grow in a forgetfulness of ourselves. We go beyond, transcend, those parts of us that get in the way of love and living. Energy is released from the need to repress the dark within us. Darkness becomes light. Attention grows in a freedom for everyday loving. The mantra’s roots grow even deeper into the heart. Grace enlivens us.


Meditatio House: Love (and Other Bruises)*

At Meditatio House, every weekday morning, we gather to discuss a part of The Rule of Benedict. One day recently our sharing turned to the nature of love and our experiences of love. It reminded me of a quote from John Main. In the quote the experience of meditation is compared with the experience of falling in love:

It [meditation] has often been described as the process whereby we open the eyes of our heart and learn to see with love and the best analogy for it is the analogy of falling in love. The beloved still seems the same to everyone else, but when we love someone deeply and unreservedly we see them in a new light and their slightest gesture can convey to us what no one else can see. Falling in love is such a profound and important experience for all of us because it takes us out of and beyond ourselves into the reality of the other; and profound meditation is of the same order. (John Main, The Door to Silence).

It is wonderful to hear a spiritual teacher speaking positively about the experience of falling in love, emphasising it as an important and natural human experience. However, as I heard about the experiences of others and began to look a little more closely at my own ‘love life’ experiences, a thought occurred to me: a lot of experiences of falling in love that have started in the manner John Main describes have ended with the experience of ‘falling out’ of love. The experience of being “taken out and beyond” ourselves into the other often does not last. After the immediate emotionality of the experience, the disorientation, and the delight in the other can come the getting to know them – their behaviours, their values, personality and temperament. All of this can result in a falling out experience that could be just as quick as the falling in. The experience can be one of suffering and can sometimes end painfully.

All this prompts in me questions. As the experience of falling in love can be at times a fickle thing, is the use of this analogy as beneficial as it first appears? If falling in love is an experience that does not last, then why use it to describe a dynamic of intimacy with God in meditation at all? After all, divine Love is not romantic love (right?) and unlike romantic love divine Love does not dissipate like the falling in love experience can (yes?).

While the human experience of romantic love can shift and change, the reality of divine Love remains the same. It is our experience and understanding of divine Love which can shift and change, not the reality of divine Love itself.

Sometimes, if divine Love moves so within us and we are disposed enough, this Love can sweep us up into it like a romantic lover, coaxing and enthralling our soul into ecstasy and delight. In describing these times, erotic language has been the language of choice for many Christian mystics.

The experience of divine Love which is similar to the experience of romantic love for us is not the fickle experience which romantic love can be, but is a gift from the life of God which happens if it happens.

If we go into meditation desiring this experience to happen, seeing it perhaps as the fruit of a ‘successful’ meditation, then we are bound to be disappointed and may start to experience prayer as a dry time and ourselves a bit like a jilted lover. If meditation is to go the distance, if a prayer life is to be fruitful across the whole pilgrimage of life, then everyday cannot be a day for this experience. The intoxication would be drug like. The pleasure seeking ego could attempt to use the experience to anesthetise us to the pain and suffering of life. As a result, compassion would dry up and wisdom fade. A wise God does not use this romantic-like experience as the default in our dance with divine Love.

So too, human relationships that begin with the romantic love experience, if they are to go the distance, need to change. It may be at first pleasurable to imagine a relationship based solely on the erotic, however, like a shooting star, the relationship will not last long in reality.

So if change is inevitable, what happens? As we have already noted, a romantic ‘falling in’ love can become a romantic ‘falling out’ of love. There is also something else that can happen: ‘falling in’ love can become a ‘falling into’ love.

There is a great song from the Australian rock band Midnight Oil called Outbreak of Love which contains some lyrics pointing to the transformation that ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ can be. The lyrics read: “This is the end of the beginning of the outbreak of love”.

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Romantic love can become the intoxicating end of the beginning to a long term (perhaps lifelong) relational adventure in love that falling into love can be. The mystery of ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ is hidden in the couple’s gentle giving to, commitment to, and experiencing of each other over time. We need the challenge and responsibility of an all-embracing intimacy if we are to grow in this ‘falling into’ love.

It is this long term experience of falling into that is perhaps more consistent with the pilgrimage of contemplative prayer generally and the pilgrimage of meditation. The experience has everything: delight, monotony, challenge, pain, joy, sadness – much like the rest of life. And in this experience of falling into there is something else which consistently underpins the changing human experience of this love: the deep and truly divine Love which ‘falling into’ lovers participate in and yet do not create.

It can require commitment and hard work to remain consciously in the falling into. Falling into is not about trying to create the falling into experience ourselves. Any attempt to create a falling into experience may just be the ego fighting against the reality of a falling out of love experience.

When couples are falling into love, the ongoing experience of their love life becomes integrated into the reality of divine Love, (whether they are aware of this divine Love or not). The two loves become one because falling into love is, ultimately, a falling into divine Love. So, for those of us growing in an awareness of divine Love, the taking of our lover’s hand becomes the taking of the hand of God, not because she/he has become God for us, but because our relationship with our lover is becoming a part of an emerging communion with God. The finite falls into, and becomes, in Christ, the infinite.

Couples who are falling into Love together ultimately reveal the falling into Love journey that life can be for all of us, no matter what our relational choices in life might be. The blossoming awareness of divine Love in us and life is for all. The invitation of life is to discover and live out our own way of falling into. Attention to the mantra is, for many, foundational to this process of discovery.

Andrew

* With thanks to Air Supply.


Afterlife: Arcade Fire. What Comes Next is Now

For me this incredible song by Arcade Fire is somewhat ambiguous. At one level it’s about a dying relationship, asking questions such as what happens after a relationship ends and “can we work it out?” On another level it seems to be asking questions about human existence in general, questions like “where do we go?” and “when love is gone, where does it go?”

 


The ambiguity around the word afterlife makes me wonder if this song is entirely secular. Things secular emphasise the earthly and material aspects of life while setting aside the immortal and immaterial. Does this song do this? Not entirely, I think.

 
A spiritually balanced view of the world would see the mortality of earthly existence as holding within it immortality. This is a view which Christian theology would name as pan-en-theistic, that is the divine within all creation. For me, this song has something of this in it, as if the writers are asking (perhaps unconsciously) can our relationships, as part of creation, have within them divinity and the experience of divinity?

 
If, for a moment, we accept the possibility of the immortal within the mortal (or material), what could this possibility mean? If it is true, for what reason would divinity be so ‘intimately with’ the “breath”, “dirt”, and “fire” of this earthly life?

 
Christian spirituality names this immortal in the material as uncreated love (or Love). This was, broadly speaking, the message of Jesus. Christian spirituality affirms that this Love already saturates our relationships and wants to be expressed in and through our relationships. This divine Love is the context, the home, within which all other relational experiences reside. In this residency our relationships become energetically alive with the gift of divine life for the world.

 
So why would divinity bother with the mortal, with us? In short, to enable us to experience what we are ultimately made for, both now and after this material part of life: divine Love. We are made for what made us. The experience of Love is an experience we can all have now, whether we believe this Love to be divine or not (such is its unconditional nature). Both the giving and receiving of this Love is part of the experience. This giving and receiving is best done without reference to ourselves (as is the nature of God). As we grow in love we forget our own consciousness and live instead so that others may be loved.

 
The practice of Christian meditation, for many, is a vital part of their self-forgetting and growing in Love. Bringing our attention always back to the mantra is a very practical way of, inwardly, growing in the forgetting of our own consciousness. The mantra takes attention ‘down into Love’ where the heart of our being has a home. In this way loving from our being is also loving from Love, something we do relationally and (over time), as our meditation practice deepens, less fearfully and with less egocentricity.

 
“Oh when love is gone where does it go?” For me, this question (posed by Arcade Fire) is laced with divine possibility. If love is only material, created somehow by us as we relate to each other, then there is no afterlife for love. Love dies with our relating. Is this, however, our experience? Deep in us, beyond rationality, could we possibly somehow sense that love is actually Love and that this Love lives on in all things? And could it be, then, that human relationship is a divine invitation into the divine nature of love and relating, as Christianity maintains? How many of us have sensed a mysterious ‘other presence’ in our relating with each other? Dare we call this other presence a God who is Love?

 

Andrew


The River and the Bridge VIII

If our experience of Love is to be true and full, it will be about more than just our own self. Love is forgetful of self and is happy to be so. The flowering of this self-forgetful Love in our lives happens only because of Love’s presence and activity.

For all of us some self-focus is a part or our living into Love and is necessary. We are human after all. However self-focus is not the natural end point of Love. Love’s nature is one of other-centered expression and care. Compulsed self-focus is loved by Love however it is not of Love.

If we do find it a challenge to look beyond our own lives and challenges, then perhaps this is because Love has not yet finished with its other-centered focus on us. This is okay. It’s a dynamic that will last – to some extent – for all of our lives. At these times we are invited by Love to practice the opening of our humanity to the action of Love. This opening is a natural human response which Love itself can help us with. With time and healing, we find ourselves joining more and more with Love’s other-focus and embrace of the world. Our attention finds a natural home in Love’s other-focus because we are created by this Love and for this Love.

VIII

On the walk back from the bridge

I feel deep contentment.

The River of Love flows deeply within,

Filling vulnerable places.

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Soon I flow with Love for the people around me.

At Mass the old priest forgets the words

And anxiety spreads across his face.

I see this and my heart fills with Love for him.

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I see an old woman walk slowly across the lawn.

I stop ready to help.

Love flows from my heart,

A love for her and the dignity of her years.

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I see beauty with blue-grey eyes.

In the silence she sits next to me,

And the longing for companionship grows.

Amid this longing, Love for her flows.

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I look upon all those with me,

I smile and tears well in my eyes.

This is how God looks upon us every moment of our lives: with nothing but Love.

God is Love

And there is nothing to fear.


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